Yet another betting shop has appeared on one of Britain’s high streets, full of screwed-up betting slips, little pens, newspaper racecards and discarded sweet wrappers. A pile of unopened post suggests the place has been abandoned.
So far, so depressing. But this bookie’s in Sunderland is different. Titled Ghost Shop, it is remarkable because everything down to the sticky carpet tiles, fire extinguishers and CCTV cameras has been made from glass.
“I have always had a weird fascination with betting shops,” said Ryan Gander, an artist whose always eyecatching work has included an activity centre for zoo lions in Mexico City and marble replicas of dens he made with his then three-year-old daughter.
“I like the beckoning doors of illicit sin that betting shops have,” he said. “They’re always covered – you never know what’s going on inside so there is all this mystery to them. And betting is such a daft addiction in so many ways.”
Gander is a conceptual artist known for irreverent works, which often stop people in their tracks, and the betting shop ranks as one of his most ambitious projects.
He estimates that curators say “it can’t be done” to about 90% of his wild ideas. When he proposed a derelict betting shop on the high street, the National Glass Centre in Sunderland said “yes” straight away.
“I’ve never done anything with glass and I always like the next thing I do to be completely different to the last thing,” he said.
The work might be seen as a comment on the decline of the British high street. It is also, said Gander, about how we never pay enough attention to dangers in plain sight – and glass was the perfect medium.
He said: “We see betting shops but they are kind of invisible because we pay no attention to them. They just become deleted from our awareness. We cancel out other people’s problems with addictions … we just blank these things out. We make them transparent.”
Gander is one of four contemporary artists commissioned by the National Glass Centre in Sunderland to make works that will be on display across the north-east of England until September.
Another is Turner prize-nominated Monster Chetwynd, who has created glass dioramas of scenes from the lives of local saints St Bede and St Cuthbert. It includes the story of Cuthbert spending the night singing psalms in the freezing sea and emerging to bless otters on the beach.
Chetwynd’s installation will be shown in the Galilee Chapel – home to Bede’s tomb – at Durham Cathedral. The other two artists in the Glass Exchange project are Pascale Marthine Tayou and Katie Paterson.
The works are being made by artists and technicians skilled in the craft of glassmaking.
Erin Dickson, a glass artist, has been involved in Gander’s project since October. It has been challenging but fun, she said, although Gander suggested it had been more like “a hundred days of hell”.
The biggest object in the installation will be a glass full-size fixed odds betting terminal, based on the controversial slot machines that campaigners argue have been cataclysmic for problem gamblers.
Gander is one of Britain’s leading conceptual artists but he is not expecting hordes of critics from London to visit what was once a tanning salon.
“I suspect that 99% of people who engage with it will be people who don’t know they’re engaging with art and I think that is the best art,” he said. “The problem is, especially in Britain, art is still a stigma for most of the population unless you live in Islington, or have been to art school, or are from an affluent background.
“Most people don’t want anything to do with art. It is just elitist, daft.” He hopes people will come across his piece and engage with it without thinking “oh … bloody poets”.